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BBR Mailbag: FT% Spikes

Posted by Neil Paine on February 17, 2010

Yesterday, reader Eric S. asked:

"I'm curious if you could tell me which players have had the biggest spike in free throw percentage. Specifically, I'm looking at players with at least 10 years in the league who suddenly have a dramatic bump in FT%.

The reason I ask is Baron Davis -- a notoriously poor free throw shooter -- came into this season averaging right around 70% for his career. This year, though, he's right around 84%. I've tried to do my own searching and I'm not finding anyone who has managed to achieve this significant of an uptick. A 5% improvement over a career mark is pretty rare, but nearly 14% is downright crazy."

It's a great question, since we tend to think of FT% as one of those stats that won't change much for a player over the years, barring some kind of radical change in shooting form/motion (and it feels like the majority of those radical changes fail to make a difference in the end). You're either a good FT shooter or you're not... unless you're one of these guys -- players who, going into at least their tenth NBA season, had established a certain FT%, and then inexplicably shot far better than that established rate (minimum 100 FTA, so it wasn't caused by a really small sample, either):

Player Year Yr# Age EstablishedFT% FT FTA FT% Spike
Dale Davis 2002 11 32 0.536 150 212 0.708 0.172
Chris Webber 2005 12 31 0.628 181 228 0.794 0.166
Baron Davis 2010 11 30 0.697 192 230 0.835 0.138
Gar Heard 1981 11 32 0.646 79 101 0.782 0.136
Kevin Willis 1999 14 36 0.704 130 155 0.839 0.135
Johnny Green 1973 14 39 0.548 89 131 0.679 0.131
Tom Sanders 1970 10 31 0.756 161 183 0.880 0.124
Paul Silas 1974 10 30 0.664 264 337 0.783 0.119
Scottie Pippen 2003 16 37 0.700 121 148 0.818 0.117
Chris Webber 2006 13 32 0.639 263 348 0.756 0.117
Bernard King 1989 11 32 0.703 361 441 0.819 0.115
Elden Campbell 2002 12 33 0.682 306 384 0.797 0.115
Kevin McHale 1990 10 32 0.780 393 440 0.893 0.113
Grant Hill 2008 13 35 0.758 170 196 0.867 0.110
Alvan Adams 1985 10 30 0.774 250 283 0.883 0.109
Bo Outlaw 2003 10 31 0.511 72 116 0.621 0.109
Elden Campbell 2003 13 34 0.695 109 136 0.801 0.107
Dick McGuire 1959 10 33 0.635 191 258 0.740 0.105
Cedric Ceballos 2000 10 30 0.739 209 248 0.843 0.104
Bobby Jones 1985 11 33 0.757 186 216 0.861 0.104
Dale Davis 2001 10 31 0.528 96 152 0.632 0.103
Shawn Bradley 2003 10 30 0.703 141 175 0.806 0.103
Rick Mahorn 1991 11 32 0.685 189 240 0.788 0.102
Rick Mahorn 1993 12 34 0.698 88 110 0.800 0.102
Craig Ehlo 1996 13 34 0.685 81 103 0.786 0.101
Jon Barry 2002 10 32 0.830 108 116 0.931 0.101
Clifford Robinson 2000 11 33 0.681 298 381 0.782 0.101
Charles Oakley 1998 13 34 0.751 97 114 0.851 0.100
Spud Webb 1995 10 31 0.835 226 242 0.934 0.099
Kevin Willis 1998 13 35 0.695 242 305 0.793 0.098
Don Nelson 1973 11 32 0.749 159 188 0.846 0.097
Buck Williams 1992 11 31 0.657 221 293 0.754 0.097
Archie Clark 1976 10 34 0.766 100 116 0.862 0.096
Corliss Williamson 2005 10 31 0.703 195 244 0.799 0.096
Guy Rodgers 1968 10 32 0.709 107 133 0.805 0.095
Jamal Mashburn 2003 10 30 0.753 313 369 0.848 0.095
Joe Meriweather 1985 10 31 0.680 96 124 0.774 0.094
Caldwell Jones 1984 11 33 0.743 164 196 0.837 0.094
Charles Oakley 1996 11 32 0.739 175 210 0.833 0.094
Keith Erickson 1976 11 31 0.760 134 157 0.854 0.093
Lou Hudson 1979 13 34 0.794 110 124 0.887 0.093
Randy Smith 1983 12 34 0.778 114 131 0.870 0.093
Chet Walker 1974 12 33 0.782 439 502 0.875 0.092
Vin Baker 2004 11 32 0.634 114 157 0.726 0.092
Dikembe Mutombo 2002 11 35 0.672 278 364 0.764 0.092
Horace Grant 2001 14 35 0.686 131 169 0.775 0.090
Kevin Willis 2000 15 37 0.709 131 164 0.799 0.089
Scottie Pippen 1998 11 32 0.688 150 193 0.777 0.089
Damon Stoudamire 2005 10 31 0.826 182 199 0.915 0.089
Shaquille O'Neal 2003 11 30 0.533 451 725 0.622 0.089
Magic Johnson 1989 10 29 0.823 513 563 0.911 0.088
Juwan Howard 2005 11 31 0.755 97 115 0.843 0.088
Phil Jackson 1979 11 33 0.731 86 105 0.819 0.088
Bernard King 1990 12 33 0.715 412 513 0.803 0.088
Moses Malone 1985 11 29 0.728 737 904 0.815 0.087
Dick Van Arsdale 1977 12 33 0.787 145 166 0.873 0.086
Dale Ellis 1995 12 34 0.780 110 127 0.866 0.086
Chris Webber 2004 11 30 0.625 81 114 0.711 0.086
Jack Sikma 1988 11 32 0.837 321 348 0.922 0.086
Anthony Mason 2001 11 34 0.697 370 474 0.781 0.084
Artis Gilmore 1982 11 32 0.685 424 552 0.768 0.083
Jermaine O'Neal 2009 13 30 0.705 175 222 0.788 0.083
Keith Erickson 1975 10 30 0.751 130 156 0.833 0.083
Mark Olberding 1987 12 30 0.805 116 131 0.885 0.081
Dale Davis 2003 12 33 0.552 105 166 0.633 0.081
Moses Malone 1987 13 31 0.743 570 692 0.824 0.080
Derek Fisher 2008 12 33 0.803 166 188 0.883 0.080
P.J. Brown 2005 12 35 0.785 210 243 0.864 0.080
Guy Rodgers 1969 11 33 0.714 184 232 0.793 0.079
Charles Oakley 2001 16 37 0.757 127 152 0.836 0.079
Leroy Ellis 1973 11 32 0.722 129 161 0.801 0.079
Sedale Threatt 1994 11 32 0.812 138 155 0.890 0.079
Larry Nance 1992 11 32 0.744 263 320 0.822 0.078
Chet Walker 1972 10 31 0.769 481 568 0.847 0.078
Johnny Green 1971 12 37 0.539 248 402 0.617 0.078
Rasheed Wallace 2007 12 32 0.711 108 137 0.788 0.077
David Wesley 2005 12 34 0.780 162 189 0.857 0.077
Jeff Hornacek 2000 14 36 0.873 171 180 0.950 0.077
Chris Mullin 1998 13 34 0.862 154 164 0.939 0.077
Al Harrington 2009 11 28 0.717 234 295 0.793 0.077
Bingo Smith 1980 11 33 0.793 100 115 0.870 0.077
Scottie Pippen 2002 15 36 0.698 113 146 0.774 0.076
Larry Foust 1962 12 33 0.738 145 178 0.815 0.076
Hakeem Olajuwon 1997 13 34 0.711 351 446 0.787 0.076
P.J. Brown 2004 11 34 0.778 158 185 0.854 0.076
Gary Payton 2002 12 33 0.721 267 335 0.797 0.076
Caldwell Jones 1986 13 35 0.751 124 150 0.827 0.075
Jermaine O'Neal 2007 11 28 0.693 343 447 0.767 0.074
Cazzie Russell 1976 10 31 0.818 132 148 0.892 0.074
Moses Malone 1991 17 35 0.757 309 372 0.831 0.074
Eddie Johnson 1993 12 33 0.837 234 257 0.911 0.074
Sherman Douglas 2001 12 34 0.675 86 115 0.748 0.073
Jerry Stackhouse 2008 13 33 0.819 132 148 0.892 0.073
Calvin Murphy 1981 11 32 0.886 206 215 0.958 0.073
Ray Scott 1971 10 32 0.720 187 236 0.792 0.072
Shaquille O'Neal 2009 17 36 0.524 309 519 0.595 0.071
Grant Hill 2005 10 32 0.751 280 341 0.821 0.070
Jerome Kersey 1995 11 32 0.696 95 124 0.766 0.070
Chet Walker 1975 13 34 0.790 413 480 0.860 0.070
Bob Boozer 1970 10 32 0.752 263 320 0.822 0.070

At the other end of the spectrum, here are the players who, seemingly out of the blue, forgot how to shoot free throws:

Player Year Yr# Age EstablishedFT% FT FTA FT% Spike
Billy Paultz 1981 11 32 0.712 75 153 0.490 -0.222
George McGinnis 1982 11 31 0.670 72 159 0.453 -0.217
Antoine Walker 2007 11 30 0.642 46 105 0.438 -0.204
Sidney Wicks 1981 10 31 0.693 76 150 0.507 -0.186
Tiny Archibald 1984 13 35 0.813 64 101 0.634 -0.179
Artis Gilmore 1988 17 38 0.700 67 128 0.523 -0.177
Bill Cartwright 1992 12 34 0.780 96 159 0.604 -0.177
Tom Hawkins 1969 10 32 0.583 62 151 0.411 -0.173
Nate Thurmond 1976 13 34 0.672 62 123 0.504 -0.168
George McGinnis 1981 10 30 0.679 207 385 0.538 -0.141
Eric Snow 2007 12 33 0.775 72 113 0.637 -0.138
Terry Cummings 1995 13 33 0.711 72 123 0.585 -0.126
Terry Cummings 1994 12 32 0.715 63 107 0.589 -0.126
Alonzo Mourning 2005 12 34 0.706 82 141 0.582 -0.125
Othella Harrington 2006 10 32 0.749 77 123 0.626 -0.123
Olden Polynice 1998 11 33 0.574 52 115 0.452 -0.122
Billy Paultz 1980 10 31 0.720 109 182 0.599 -0.121
Antonio McDyess 2006 10 31 0.677 68 122 0.557 -0.119
Tyrone Corbin 1995 10 32 0.801 78 114 0.684 -0.117
Will Perdue 2000 12 34 0.587 50 105 0.476 -0.111
Alonzo Mourning 2006 13 35 0.703 133 224 0.594 -0.109
Shaquille O'Neal 2007 15 34 0.528 124 294 0.422 -0.106
Vinnie Johnson 1991 12 34 0.752 135 209 0.646 -0.106
Dwight Jones 1983 10 30 0.747 79 123 0.642 -0.105
Mark West 1995 12 34 0.582 66 138 0.478 -0.103
Walt Bellamy 1973 12 33 0.640 283 526 0.538 -0.102
Hakeem Olajuwon 2000 16 37 0.717 69 112 0.616 -0.101
Otis Thorpe 1995 11 32 0.693 167 281 0.594 -0.099
Wes Unseld 1978 10 31 0.636 93 173 0.538 -0.098
Alonzo Mourning 2007 14 36 0.699 185 308 0.601 -0.098
Lorenzen Wright 2006 10 30 0.661 66 117 0.564 -0.097
Jerome Kersey 1997 13 34 0.697 71 118 0.602 -0.095
Paul Silas 1978 14 34 0.681 109 186 0.586 -0.095
Robert Horry 2004 12 33 0.740 69 107 0.645 -0.095
Hakeem Olajuwon 2001 17 38 0.716 123 198 0.621 -0.095
A.C. Green 1997 12 33 0.743 128 197 0.650 -0.093
Wilt Chamberlain 1972 13 35 0.515 221 524 0.422 -0.093
Vinnie Johnson 1990 11 33 0.759 131 196 0.668 -0.091
Charles Barkley 2000 16 36 0.736 71 110 0.645 -0.090
Bob Lanier 1983 13 34 0.773 91 133 0.684 -0.088
Shareef Abdur-Rahim 2007 11 30 0.814 170 234 0.726 -0.088
Bill Cartwright 1991 11 33 0.784 124 178 0.697 -0.088
Mark West 1994 11 33 0.587 58 116 0.500 -0.087
Nate Thurmond 1975 12 33 0.676 132 224 0.589 -0.087
David Robinson 1999 10 33 0.745 239 363 0.658 -0.086
Vlade Divac 2002 13 33 0.701 209 340 0.615 -0.086
Lamar Odom 2009 10 29 0.708 160 257 0.623 -0.086
Joe Caldwell 1974 10 32 0.581 128 258 0.496 -0.085
Chuck Person 1996 10 31 0.727 67 104 0.644 -0.083
Johnny Green 1969 10 35 0.535 57 125 0.456 -0.079
Paul Silas 1979 15 35 0.677 116 194 0.598 -0.079
Connie Simmons 1956 10 30 0.683 78 129 0.605 -0.078
Terry Porter 1997 12 33 0.842 127 166 0.765 -0.077
Mark West 1993 10 32 0.595 86 166 0.518 -0.077
Shaquille O'Neal 2005 13 32 0.537 353 765 0.461 -0.076
Wilt Chamberlain 1969 10 32 0.521 382 857 0.446 -0.075
Tiny Archibald 1982 11 33 0.821 236 316 0.747 -0.074
Dick Barnett 1971 11 34 0.768 193 278 0.694 -0.074
Nazr Mohammed 2008 10 30 0.657 95 163 0.583 -0.074
Tiny Archibald 1983 12 34 0.817 220 296 0.743 -0.073
Bob Cousy 1963 13 34 0.807 219 298 0.735 -0.072
Stephon Marbury 2008 12 30 0.787 83 116 0.716 -0.071
Alvin Robertson 1996 10 33 0.748 107 158 0.677 -0.071
Louie Dampier 1978 11 33 0.823 76 101 0.752 -0.071
Will Perdue 1998 10 32 0.596 70 133 0.526 -0.070
AaRon Williams 2004 10 32 0.747 105 155 0.677 -0.070

Everybody is prone to random fluctuation every now and then, though -- even in 100-FTA samples -- so how much of the "spike" (in either direction) did these guys tend to retain the year after their seemingly dramatic change in FT shooting ability (min. 100 FTA the year after the spike)? For players whose FT% dramatically improved, the answer is clear -- their FT% almost universally declined the following season:

Player Year Yr# Age EstablishedFT% FT% Spike Spike+1 Diff
Dale Davis 2002 11 32 0.536 0.708 0.172 0.633 -0.075
Chris Webber 2005 12 31 0.628 0.794 0.166 0.756 -0.038
Kevin Willis 1999 14 36 0.704 0.839 0.135 0.799 -0.040
Tom Sanders 1970 10 31 0.756 0.880 0.124 0.816 -0.064
Paul Silas 1974 10 30 0.664 0.783 0.119 0.709 -0.074
Chris Webber 2006 13 32 0.639 0.756 0.117 0.638 -0.118
Bernard King 1989 11 32 0.703 0.819 0.115 0.803 -0.015
Elden Campbell 2002 12 33 0.682 0.797 0.115 0.801 0.005
Kevin McHale 1990 10 32 0.780 0.893 0.113 0.829 -0.064
Grant Hill 2008 13 35 0.758 0.867 0.110 0.808 -0.059
Alvan Adams 1985 10 30 0.774 0.883 0.109 0.783 -0.100
Bo Outlaw 2003 10 31 0.511 0.621 0.109 0.526 -0.095
Elden Campbell 2003 13 34 0.695 0.801 0.107 0.685 -0.116
Dick McGuire 1959 10 33 0.635 0.740 0.105 0.617 -0.123
Bobby Jones 1985 11 33 0.757 0.861 0.104 0.786 -0.075
Dale Davis 2001 10 31 0.528 0.632 0.103 0.708 0.076
Rick Mahorn 1991 11 32 0.685 0.788 0.102 0.800 0.013
Jon Barry 2002 10 32 0.830 0.931 0.101 0.860 -0.071
Clifford Robinson 2000 11 33 0.681 0.782 0.101 0.709 -0.073
Charles Oakley 1998 13 34 0.751 0.851 0.100 0.836 -0.015
Spud Webb 1995 10 31 0.835 0.934 0.099 0.862 -0.072
Kevin Willis 1998 13 35 0.695 0.793 0.098 0.839 0.045
Don Nelson 1973 11 32 0.749 0.846 0.097 0.788 -0.058
Buck Williams 1992 11 31 0.657 0.754 0.097 0.645 -0.109
Corliss Williamson 2005 10 31 0.703 0.799 0.096 0.715 -0.084
Guy Rodgers 1968 10 32 0.709 0.805 0.095 0.793 -0.011
Caldwell Jones 1984 11 33 0.743 0.837 0.094 0.827 -0.010
Charles Oakley 1996 11 32 0.739 0.833 0.094 0.808 -0.025
Chet Walker 1974 12 33 0.782 0.875 0.092 0.860 -0.014
Dikembe Mutombo 2002 11 35 0.672 0.764 0.092 0.681 -0.083
Horace Grant 2001 14 35 0.686 0.775 0.090 0.721 -0.054
Kevin Willis 2000 15 37 0.709 0.799 0.089 0.769 -0.030
Scottie Pippen 1998 11 32 0.688 0.777 0.089 0.721 -0.056
Shaquille O'Neal 2003 11 30 0.533 0.622 0.089 0.490 -0.132
Magic Johnson 1989 10 29 0.823 0.911 0.088 0.890 -0.021
Juwan Howard 2005 11 31 0.755 0.843 0.088 0.806 -0.037
Bernard King 1990 12 33 0.715 0.803 0.088 0.790 -0.013
Moses Malone 1985 11 29 0.728 0.815 0.087 0.787 -0.028
Dale Ellis 1995 12 34 0.780 0.866 0.086 0.760 -0.106
Chris Webber 2004 11 30 0.625 0.711 0.086 0.794 0.083
Jack Sikma 1988 11 32 0.837 0.922 0.086 0.905 -0.018
Anthony Mason 2001 11 34 0.697 0.781 0.084 0.697 -0.084
Artis Gilmore 1982 11 32 0.685 0.768 0.083 0.740 -0.028
Jermaine O'Neal 2009 13 30 0.705 0.788 0.083 0.705 -0.083
Keith Erickson 1975 10 30 0.751 0.833 0.083 0.854 0.020
Dale Davis 2003 12 33 0.552 0.633 0.081 0.613 -0.019
Moses Malone 1987 13 31 0.743 0.824 0.080 0.788 -0.036
Derek Fisher 2008 12 33 0.803 0.883 0.080 0.846 -0.037
P.J. Brown 2005 12 35 0.785 0.864 0.080 0.827 -0.037
Leroy Ellis 1973 11 32 0.722 0.801 0.079 0.750 -0.051
Sedale Threatt 1994 11 32 0.812 0.890 0.079 0.793 -0.098
Larry Nance 1992 11 32 0.744 0.822 0.078 0.818 -0.004
Chet Walker 1972 10 31 0.769 0.847 0.078 0.832 -0.015
Johnny Green 1971 12 37 0.539 0.617 0.078 0.564 -0.053
Rasheed Wallace 2007 12 32 0.711 0.788 0.077 0.767 -0.022
David Wesley 2005 12 34 0.780 0.857 0.077 0.807 -0.050
Al Harrington 2009 11 28 0.717 0.793 0.077 0.778 -0.015
Scottie Pippen 2002 15 36 0.698 0.774 0.076 0.818 0.044
Hakeem Olajuwon 1997 13 34 0.711 0.787 0.076 0.755 -0.032
P.J. Brown 2004 11 34 0.778 0.854 0.076 0.864 0.010
Gary Payton 2002 12 33 0.721 0.797 0.076 0.710 -0.087
Caldwell Jones 1986 13 35 0.751 0.827 0.075 0.782 -0.044
Jermaine O'Neal 2007 11 28 0.693 0.767 0.074 0.742 -0.025
Cazzie Russell 1976 10 31 0.818 0.892 0.074 0.858 -0.033
Moses Malone 1991 17 35 0.757 0.831 0.074 0.786 -0.045
Eddie Johnson 1993 12 33 0.837 0.911 0.074 0.780 -0.131
Calvin Murphy 1981 11 32 0.886 0.958 0.073 0.909 -0.049
Ray Scott 1971 10 32 0.720 0.792 0.072 0.781 -0.012
Shaquille O'Neal 2009 17 36 0.524 0.595 0.071 0.512 -0.083
Grant Hill 2005 10 32 0.751 0.821 0.070 0.765 -0.056
Jerome Kersey 1995 11 32 0.696 0.766 0.070 0.660 -0.106
Bob Boozer 1970 10 32 0.752 0.822 0.070 0.818 -0.004

Players whose FT% improved more than 7% over their established rate tended to shoot 4.5 percentage points worse the year after their spike, giving back almost half of the strides they made. At the other end of the spectrum, players whose FT% declined dramatically (5 or more %) generally improved the following year, but it seemed more difficult to regain what they had lost:

Player Year Yr# Age EstablishedFT% FT% Spike Spike+1 Diff
Nate Thurmond 1976 13 34 0.672 0.504 -0.168 0.642 0.137
George McGinnis 1981 10 30 0.679 0.538 -0.141 0.453 -0.085
Terry Cummings 1995 13 33 0.711 0.585 -0.126 0.650 0.065
Terry Cummings 1994 12 32 0.715 0.589 -0.126 0.585 -0.003
Alonzo Mourning 2005 12 34 0.706 0.582 -0.125 0.594 0.012
Billy Paultz 1980 10 31 0.720 0.599 -0.121 0.490 -0.109
Antonio McDyess 2006 10 31 0.677 0.557 -0.119 0.691 0.133
Tyrone Corbin 1995 10 32 0.801 0.684 -0.117 0.833 0.149
Alonzo Mourning 2006 13 35 0.703 0.594 -0.109 0.601 0.007
Shaquille O'Neal 2007 15 34 0.528 0.422 -0.106 0.503 0.081
Walt Bellamy 1973 12 33 0.640 0.538 -0.102 0.608 0.070
Hakeem Olajuwon 2000 16 37 0.717 0.616 -0.101 0.621 0.005
Otis Thorpe 1995 11 32 0.693 0.594 -0.099 0.710 0.116
Wes Unseld 1978 10 31 0.636 0.538 -0.098 0.643 0.105
Paul Silas 1978 14 34 0.681 0.586 -0.095 0.598 0.012
Robert Horry 2004 12 33 0.740 0.645 -0.095 0.789 0.144
A.C. Green 1997 12 33 0.743 0.650 -0.093 0.716 0.066
Wilt Chamberlain 1972 13 35 0.515 0.422 -0.093 0.510 0.088
Vinnie Johnson 1990 11 33 0.759 0.668 -0.091 0.646 -0.022
Bob Lanier 1983 13 34 0.773 0.684 -0.088 0.708 0.024
Bill Cartwright 1991 11 33 0.784 0.697 -0.088 0.604 -0.093
Mark West 1994 11 33 0.587 0.500 -0.087 0.478 -0.022
Nate Thurmond 1975 12 33 0.676 0.589 -0.087 0.504 -0.085
David Robinson 1999 10 33 0.745 0.658 -0.086 0.726 0.068
Vlade Divac 2002 13 33 0.701 0.615 -0.086 0.713 0.098
Lamar Odom 2009 10 29 0.708 0.623 -0.086 0.689 0.066
Johnny Green 1969 10 35 0.535 0.456 -0.079 0.592 0.136
Paul Silas 1979 15 35 0.677 0.598 -0.079 0.654 0.056
Terry Porter 1997 12 33 0.842 0.765 -0.077 0.856 0.091
Mark West 1993 10 32 0.595 0.518 -0.077 0.500 -0.018
Shaquille O'Neal 2005 13 32 0.537 0.461 -0.076 0.469 0.008
Wilt Chamberlain 1969 10 32 0.521 0.446 -0.075 0.446 0.000
Tiny Archibald 1982 11 33 0.821 0.747 -0.074 0.743 -0.004
Dick Barnett 1971 11 34 0.768 0.694 -0.074 0.753 0.059
Nazr Mohammed 2008 10 30 0.657 0.583 -0.074 0.652 0.069
Tiny Archibald 1983 12 34 0.817 0.743 -0.073 0.634 -0.110
Will Perdue 1998 10 32 0.596 0.526 -0.070 0.476 -0.050
Wilt Chamberlain 1970 11 33 0.514 0.446 -0.069 0.538 0.092
Tracy McGrady 2008 11 28 0.752 0.684 -0.068 0.801 0.117
Orlando Woolridge 1992 11 32 0.748 0.683 -0.066 0.678 -0.005
Brad Davis 1990 13 34 0.835 0.770 -0.065 0.771 0.001
Dennis Rodman 1996 10 34 0.594 0.528 -0.065 0.550 0.021
Orlando Woolridge 1993 12 33 0.743 0.678 -0.065 0.689 0.011
Derek Harper 1994 11 32 0.751 0.687 -0.063 0.724 0.037
Herb Williams 1991 10 32 0.702 0.638 -0.063 0.725 0.087
Eddie Johnson 1994 13 34 0.842 0.780 -0.063 0.831 0.051
Elton Brand 2009 10 29 0.738 0.676 -0.062 0.753 0.077
Shaquille O'Neal 2006 14 33 0.531 0.469 -0.062 0.422 -0.047
Terry Porter 1996 11 32 0.846 0.785 -0.061 0.765 -0.020
Walt Bellamy 1972 11 32 0.645 0.585 -0.060 0.538 -0.047
Michael Jordan 1998 13 34 0.843 0.784 -0.059 0.790 0.006
Dick Barnett 1970 10 33 0.773 0.714 -0.059 0.694 -0.020
David Robinson 2002 13 36 0.739 0.681 -0.058 0.710 0.029
Terry Cummings 1996 14 34 0.708 0.650 -0.058 0.711 0.061
Patrick Ewing 2001 16 38 0.742 0.685 -0.057 0.701 0.016
Mark Aguirre 1992 11 32 0.744 0.687 -0.057 0.767 0.080
Bob Cousy 1962 12 33 0.810 0.754 -0.057 0.735 -0.019
Elvin Hayes 1981 13 35 0.673 0.617 -0.056 0.664 0.046
Erick Dampier 2008 12 32 0.631 0.575 -0.055 0.638 0.063
Tim Thomas 2007 10 29 0.763 0.708 -0.055 0.752 0.043
Alonzo Mourning 2002 10 31 0.710 0.657 -0.053 0.582 -0.075
Grant Long 2001 13 34 0.766 0.713 -0.053 0.699 -0.014
Shaquille O'Neal 2004 12 31 0.542 0.490 -0.052 0.461 -0.028
Tracy McGrady 2007 10 27 0.758 0.707 -0.051 0.684 -0.023
Wayne Embry 1968 10 30 0.640 0.589 -0.051 0.664 0.075
Kendall Gill 2000 10 31 0.761 0.710 -0.051 0.764 0.054

Of the players in that sample, they averaged to lose 8 points of FT% in the spike year, and only gained back 3% the next season.

In general, the players who saw dramatic gains tended to be better shooters in the first place than those whose FT% collapsed -- players with 5-point positive spikes or better had an established rate of 74% and gained 7.3% on average, while those with 5-point or worse negative spikes had an average established rate of 70% going into their collapse season and averaged an 8% loss of FT%. Also, while regression to the mean for players who gained FT% is often swift and uncompromising in subsequent seasons, progression toward one's previously-established norms is far from a given for those who lost FT%. In other words, for players with both kinds of anomalous seasons, it appears that after the spike year, your best free throw-shooting seasons are officially behind you forever.

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3 Responses to “BBR Mailbag: FT% Spikes”

  1. P Middy Says:

    It's one to thing to go from bad to good. But you gotta love those guys who went from good to great.

    1985 Moses scores 80 more points because of his improved percentage.

  2. Dave Says:

    Dale Davis deserves a little more analysis. 3 seasons 2001, 2002, 2003 all on your signifcant uptick list - all in Portland. Not sure why previous season where he shot 68% in Indy didn't make your list. It might suggest, that something had changed to make him signifcantly better.
    But, like Shaq, Davis' FT% seems very noisy with Std Dev of almost 8%. His career average is slightly below his rookie season, and Davis seems to have had seasons in first half of his career where he was a below 50% FT shooter. So it is hard to make a sound conclusion.

    Unlike Shaq, if you sort Dale Davis' career by FT%, the top 6 seasons are all in the second half of his career, and the bottom 6 seasons are all in the first half of his career. The only season where he dipped below his career average post 30, was a season where he had only 15 FTA.

    I would also make the observation that many of the people on your lists are big men with not much of a reputation for a consistent stroke. So a larger natural variability is to be expected.

  3. Romain Says:

    It's too bad that with the way you've built these lists, Duncan's not in there

    I mean, There's no logic in this man's FT shooting:
    .761 in 2000, .618 in 2001, .799 in 2002 (which is really good for a PF/C), .599 in 2004 (just horrible)...

    How many players have basically go from .60 to .80 and then back to .60 in just 4 years in their prime?